He is the Ghost Who Walks. The Man Who Cannot Die. The Guardian of the Eastern Dark. He is The Phantom, and when Moonstone Books finishes their current "Phantom" books, Dynamite Entertainment is set to publish a brand new chapter in The Phantom's storied history with a new series helmed by industry giant Alex Ross and scripted by "Buck Rogers" writer Scott Beatty.
For those unfamiliar with the mantle of The Phantom and his many incarnations, the purple-clad hero originated from an American adventure comic strip in the 1930s by "Mandrake the Magician" creator Lee Falk. When the strip began, The Phantom was the twenty-first person in a long line of costumed crimefighters, all members of the Walker family who have maintained the mantle of The Phantom since 1536. Much like Batman, The Phantom has no superpowers of any type, instead relying on his combat abilities, his detective skills and his scary reputation of immortality to overcome obstacles placed in his path. Armed with two .45 pistols, he's also got a pet wolf, some awesome rings and a base of operations called The Skull Cave. Every firstborn man of the Walker family has assumed the identity of The Phantom without question...until now.
CBR News spoke with writer Scott Beatty on the new take on The Phantom legend, including his thoughts on the story, how his experiences writing "Buck Rogers" and "Batman" help him with writing The Ghost Who Walks and some of the challenges he faces in extending The Phantom legacy for one more run.
CBR News: Scott, tell us a little bit about the new Phantom series over at Dynamite. When does it take place in Phantom lore and what's the general idea behind the story?
Scott Beatty: As far as Phantom lore goes, this is the latest (and according to the series title) perhaps last chronicle in the long history of The Ghost Who Walks. The general idea is this: What if the current Kit Walker didn't want to carry on the mantle of The Phantom? Discuss!
How did this project get off the ground and how did you come to be involved with it?
Dynamite head honcho Nick Barrucci and series editor Joe Rybandt asked if I would be interested in sitting down with Alex Ross and working on a new take on The Phantom. Naturally, my RSVP was immediate and enthusiastic!
So, you were a fan of The Phantom even before working on the series. After working on Buck Rogers, are you excited to be adding yet another classic hero to your arsenal?
I've said this elsewhere and I mean it with equal parts pride and humility. I've written Batman. I've written Buck. With The Phantom, I've now worked on a trifecta of comics' most iconic and important heroic characters. Someday, I'll retire utterly satisfied with the company I kept.
For this particular project, you're collaborating with Alex Ross. What has this been like?
Alex lives and breathes comic book heroes. Working with him is an honor and a privilege. And the collaborative process is just that, a mutual give-and-take to create the best stories possible.
There have been quite a few comics focusing on The Phantom in recent years - what is it that sets this series apart from the rest?
I really can't speak to the other series except to say that we're trying very hard to explore what it means to be The Phantom, not just what he does or what his predecessors did for more than 400 years. Is it choice or predestined? And can one simply walk away?
Why do you feel telling this story is important, not only for the growth of the character, but also for you as a writer?
If you believe as I do that all great fiction is character-driven, then it's important to ask why a hero does what he does. The medium may be two-dimensional on the page (or in the not-so-distant future iPad screen), but the motivations - especially for a "generational" character like the current Kit Walker - are multi-layered and involve far more conflict than simply what the series' villains bring to the table.
What are some of the challenges you've found yourself facing in bringing this version of the character to life?
Let's just say that certain aspects of The Phantom's mythology require willing suspension of disbelief. Hell, comics in general require that caveat before admission. White horse? Check. Wolf sidekick? Check. Purple leotard and zebra stripes? Check and check. I think every costumed character who debuted in the late 1930s - and you know exactly who I'm talking about - have faced the same basic dilemma: Upgrade or die. And Kit Walker is already a ghost of a kind. But as a writer and a fan (the order changing depending on the hour of the day) I take the iconography very seriously.
While you're focusing on adding a whole new chapter to the mythology, much of what makes The Phantom such an enigmatic and interesting character is his past. What of this classic canon will you explore while bringing forth this new chapter?
Think on this quote from Oscar Wilde: "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." The Skull Cave is filled with both uncountable riches and untold history. Kit Walker is shaped almost entirely by The Phantom's past. And he's not entirely comfortable with that indisputable truth.
What are you most excited about when it comes to scripting this new series?
Comic book heroes continue to fascinate me in ways I can't completely explain. I guess I'm adrenalin-junkie by proxy in that regard. There's nothing that makes me more excited than sitting down to put a hero like The Phantom through twenty-two pages of Hell and high adventure.
The Phantom began as an American comic strip back in the 1930s. How do you feel comics have changed since then and how will you be adjusting for these changes in the new series?
The Phantom of the 1930s and "The Last Phantom" aren't very different in terms of raison d'etre or mission statement. Evil lurks. Bengali is in trouble. And in the 21st century, much to Kit Walker's tragic regret, evil just might be winning. Times may have changed, but The Ghost Who Walks endures for a reason. The job isn't over yet. Not by a long shot.